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One of Plan Infoca's fire crews extinguishing the last wildfire in Sierra Bermeja. SUR
Spring rains give some breathing space to Infoca in preparations to face summer wildfires in Andalalucía
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Spring rains give some breathing space to Infoca in preparations to face summer wildfires in Andalalucía

The Junta has postponed the start date of the maximum fire risk season to 1 June while pumping 243.34 million euros of investment into this year's campaign

José Luis Piedra

Seville

Monday, 6 May 2024, 16:38

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Plan Infoca, the Junta de Andalucía's action plan for the extinction and prevention of fires, is readying its specialist wildfire brigades for the peak season of its 2024 campaign. However, it can breathe a small sigh of relief due to the copious rains recorded this spring.

Rain is a key factor in helping to maintain the humidity of the forest floor, reducing the risk of such wildfires. This was brought up at the last meeting of the regional advisory committee for Plan Infoca where it was agreed to postpone the start of the maximum risk campaign to 1 June, ending on 15 October, due to the improvement in the state of the water table and the humidity levels of vegetation in forest areas following the latest rainfall.

Plan Infoca considers the weather to be one of the factors that has the most impact on the spread of fires, which is why humidity in woodland vegetation is key to how these fires develop. When humidity is very low it makes the fire more intense, spreading faster and becoming more unpredictable in its behaviour. For this reason, the Infoca team is thankful for the heavy rains in Andalucía this spring, especially those recorded in March, when it rained 336% more than normal, and also the first few days of April. That quantity of rainfall was a turning point in their planning, given that, until February, the hydrological year had been dry (the water year runs from 1 October to 30 September).

That said, throughout the long summer season when the wildfire risk is deemed high, Infoca assesses the actual risk in detail on a weekly basis, aided by exhaustive analyses and studies of weather patterns and the condition of the forest vegetation.

The new fire-fighting campaign starts out in contrast to the situation in which Andalucía's forest enclaves found themselves in 2023, an extremely warm and dry year, the second warmest and the sixth driest since records began in 1961. However, that warmer trend has continued during the first four months of 2024, especially in April when we saw summer-like temperatures. All in all, the rains have generated much more undergrowth than grew during last year's high season. So, with the dryness of the high temperatures that are approaching, this growth spurt has created a combustible material for the spread of fires.

Budget increase

This year the Junta continues to improve its forest fires service and Infoca's budget has undergone a significant increase, up by 11%. That means 20 million euros more, from 223 million euros in 2023 to 243.34 million this year, of which 134.9 million will go to fire-fighting and just over 108.4 million to fire prevention. The team of professionals will be made up of 4,700 personnel, similar numbers to last year, although the Junta is running a recruitment campaign offering discontinuous fixed contracts, to which it is contemplating allocating three million euros. As far as material resources are concerned, Plan Infoca has 101 fire engine pumps and 16 heavy duty fire engines, with 16 new trucks coming into service this season, along with a further 11 units to be added in 2025.

With these additions Infoca will then have renewed 75% of its fleet (76 units), with a total investment of 25.4 million euros. These heavy-duty vehicles are the first of Infoca's fleet to be equipped with the Junta's new digital emergency network, to be extended to the rest of the ground units "in stages". With regard to aerial resources, Infoca has 35 aircraft, of which 25 are helicopters and 10 are aeroplanes. The Junta is concerned to know what resources will be provided by central government for this year.

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